(10 of 11)
Summer had always peaked over the Fourth of July. It was the one weekend when the whole family made a point of congregating in Avon at the same time. Ginny had an uncle who was a veteran of World War II, and every year, usually on July 5 or 6, the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) marching band played on her front lawn. This year, after an FBI terrorism warning sent people scrambling for a refuge from Manhattan, relatives began arriving a day or two earlier than usual.
The guests declared a news blackout for the long weekend. If nothing else, they could filter out the overt mentions of Sept. 11. Yet George's absence was glaring at every turn. He had done the grilling, hung the flag, made sure the cooler was always stocked. The role of substitute patriarch fell to one of his fraternity brothers, George Eidam, who had come with his wife Marti and only child Mark, just six weeks older than Hilary. The Fourth went off without a hitch. Hilary spent an exhausting afternoon at the beach with George and Mark and could barely keep her eyes open for the fireworks.
The next day, Hilary crashed. On the beach, she was listless and wrapped herself up like a mummy in pink towels. She did not touch her chicken wrap and stormed home after lunch. The beach crowd fumbled for an explanation. Perhaps she was just tired. Or it was hormones. Or for once she was being a surly teenager. When Ginny later went up to the house, Hilary was in bed underneath the quilt, engrossed in a pbs documentary about dwarfs triumphing in the face of their handicap. "Hanging around with Uncle George and Mark just keeps reminding me that I don't have my dad," she said. That evening George took Ginny aside and offered to pack up and leave. "It will break my heart, but if it's too hard for Hilary, we'll go," he said. There was no doubt in Ginny's mind that they would stay.
Shortly before noon the next day, the VFW buses started rolling in. The band members, who in past years had always worn grubby T shirts and cutoffs, marched in their official uniforms, with muskets and all. After finishing a set of patriotic standards, the band made a special presentation in George's honor of one of the ornate, 3-ft.-high floral wreaths the vfw places on the tombs of soldiers.
As the summer ripened, hilary and Ginny took some cautious steps into the rest of their lives. They have new routines, such as "girls' nights out" for pizza, and are talking about a trip to Ireland next year. They had their first big fight. (Ginny would not allow Hilary to take the surfing lessons her father had promised.) "My friends say this is progress, talking back like a typical teenager," sighs Ginny. For her part, Ginny is less jittery behind the wheel thanks to her new $3,000 global positioning system; an automated voice supplies step-by-step directions to anywhere she wants to travel. Yet press even the slightest bit on this scene, and the crater opens up. There are the occasional spooky reminders of George, like the solicitors who call for him or the monthly Verizon bill that arrives in his name. Hilary still spends some nights in her mother's bed. Though she talks about her father much more freely, she does so without making eye contact and often slipping her tortoiseshell sunglasses on. She rarely discusses her dad with her summer friends.
And she is still trying on different faces, still hoping for the right fit.